Adobe Flash Roasts My ‘Chestnuts’ w/50% CPU Use

All the brouhaha about no-Flash on the Apple iPad, how great Flash is (by the Adobe folks) and how HTML5 will be the savior of us all is not lost on any of us in the tech community. So having experienced the resource needs of the hungry runtime known as Flash, I decided to do a quick-n-dirty experiment to see just how much CPU is used by the Flash runtime to play a video on my 2.33Ghz, Intel Core2 Duo, 4GB RAM, Macbook Pro.

Kara Swisher of AllThingsD interviewed Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch and posted the video today (in Flash, naturally). I thought it would be ironic to test the CPU use of Flash as a layman — a man who frequently has his “chestnuts” roasted from the nearly open fire of heat on the bottom of my Macbook Pro generated by the CPU being driven really, really hard by Flash — by playing his video in Flash and measuring its CPU utilization vs. a video played in HTML5 (on the YouTube beta site for HTML5 videos).

Bottom line? Flash uses on average 50% of my Macbook Pro CPU to play a video and HTML5 uses “in the teens” (15% – 19%). If you want to see more, watch this VERY rough and quick-n-dirty video (sorry about the cheesy audio) I did to show you why I’m pleased that, either Adobe make Flash awesome, or Apple NOT put it in to the iPad:

UPDATE: If you’d like to read one of the best overviews I’ve seen yet of the controversy — and whether or not the iPad even needs a Flash runtime for video or anything else — see this AppleInsider post entitled, “Inside Apple’s iPad: Adobe Flash“. It’s a three page article so be sure to read all the pages.

UPDATE 2: An Adobe Flash developer on why the iPad can’t use Flash


  1. John Dowdell on February 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Steve, for the immediate concerns of roasting beneath an open fire, please move the laptop just a few inches further towards your knees, okay…? 😉

    Seriously, if you think your performance is different than similar configurations, here’s a fast way to identify the differences:

    It would be good to move Macintosh video-decompression off the CPU onto hardware acceleration, as on Windows, but this is still difficult for plugins in Mac browsers. Still, we’ve been able to apply some of the work done for mobile memory and performance back to the desktop, and this will help Macs too, as Kevin Lynch describes:

    You should also look forward to further performance improvements, now that Adobe Flash Player and Apple Safari are both supporting Core Animation, and as other browsers also change to avoid the significant performance hits of older drawing models… Tinic Uro has info:

    But, that said, big news occurred this week… I’ve got a high-level wrapup here:


  2. Steve Borsch on February 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Hi John. Thanks for the reply and for providing the links. My systems *are* optimized with Flash (MacPro 8 core/20GB RAM; MBPro as in the video; one gen old Mac mini; six others at the office) but every one of them, save the MacPro, have fans running to cool that hot CPU whenever Flash videos are playing and yes, all of our machines are current (version I’m sort of used to the Mac mini fans roaring when watching Flash via Boxee on my HDTV, but that setup is nice and quiet when viewing a NetFlix movie since apparently Microsoft Silverlight is optimized for Mac already?

    I’m enthused for Open Screen, CE vendors coming on board and future optimizations, but still need to stand by my characterization of the net-net, bottom line, cut-to-the-chase, essence of the issue: Flash today is roughly double the CPU need and thus seemingly makes the point *for* Apple that Flash on a mobile device — ones that rely on highly optimized runtimes to maximize battery life — are ill-served by a still-hungry-for-cycles Flash and I’ll change my tune once I see the ‘new and improved’ ship.

  3. Mike Chambers on February 17, 2010 at 9:00 pm



    The main difference in performance for the video in this case, is that when using the HTML version, the video is most likely being played back via quicktime, which is hardware accelerated. On the Mac, the Flash video is not currently hardware accelerated (which is something that we are working on).

    Not making any excuses, just giving you some more background on the differences.

    mike chambers

  4. Doug on February 20, 2010 at 5:40 am

    I was playing a video on Facebook and wanted to see what the CPU was doing. Then I was wondering how this would be in Windows. Then I took it to other browsers. This is what I found.

    Windows on VMWare IExplorer 6 – 40%
    Windows on VMWare Firefox – 65%
    Windows on VMWare Safari – 60%
    Mac Firefox – 100%
    Mac Safari – 140%

    Video quality was essentially the same although Firefox and Safari on Mac seemed smoother. Mac has a more than 2x penalty for playing Flash than Windows (IE). Also, all browsers took a hit while it was downloading the video which doubled the CPU usage. I have a 2007 MacPro.

    John, Mike, looking forward to that update!

  5. […] Steve’s post about a personal Flash video test […]

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.